Getting to Grips with Gewurztraminer

In a world of wine known for elegance, class, tradition and sometimes a little snobbery, the Gewurztraminer grape’s name, unfortunately, renders it the under-appreciated, ugly duckling amongst classic names such as Champagne, Chenin Blanc, Merlot, and Pinot Noir.

Despite its misleading moniker, Gewurztraminer is, in fact, one of the 18 Classic Noble Grapes, alongside wine-world celebrities such as Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Tempranillo, and Sangiovese. Compared to some of its companions on this list, Gewürztraminer is highly undervalued and can sell for just a fraction of the cost of others, providing a great tasting and affordable fine wine.

Gewurztraminer wine

Wine Village of Tramin in South Tirol, where Gewurztraminer wine is made.

A Beginner’s Guide to Gewurztraminer

Gewurztraminer deserves to be understood, because this full-bodied, relatively sweet white wine has a lot to offer.

Native to the Alsace region of France, Gewurztraminer is, in fact, one of the four noble Grand Cru grapes of Alsace, alongside Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Muscat. In fact, Gewurztraminer is often likened to being a more “adult” version of Muscat, thanks to its stronger aromatics, higher alcohol level, and lower acidity, making it a wine suited to being savored and sipped more slowly than other easy-drinking alternatives.

Having been cultivated in Alsace for hundreds of years, winemakers have got their craft down to an art. The best quality wines from this region are called “Vendage Tardives”, which translates as “late harvest”. With high natural sweetness, these Vendage Tardives bottles are complex and sophisticated dessert wines, with an expertly balanced blend of mineral, spicy and smoky flavors.

Did You Know? Gewurztraminer Facts:

  • The true Gewurztraminer wine grape is actually considered to be quite rare and only 20,000 acres of it are planted worldwide. For every one Gewurztraminer vine, there are four Riesling vines, and it is eclipsed compared to the frontrunner which is Cabernet Sauvignon with total 840,000 acres.
  • Although Gewurztraminer may be referred to as “Traminer”, this term does not always depict the true form of this noble grape. The Traminer grape family is prone to mutation with many different variants and differences. If you want to be sure that you’re getting the right wine, look for the full name on the bottle.
  • Gewurztraminer is difficult to cultivate as it is unreliable, prone to diseases and ripens erratically.
  • For the best quality wines, look for “Grand Cru” appellations and a growing area of “Haut-Rhin” which indicates a high number of Grand Cru vineyards.

Gewurztraminer Taste Profile

Gewurztraminer naturally has a couple of grams of residual sugar, making it slightly sweet, however, its rich aromatic and floral bouquet of smells such as lychee and rosewater, as well as its low acidity and high alcohol content, can mean that this wine seems sweeter than it genetically is.

One of the standard telltale signs of Gewurztraminer wine is its distinct lychee flavor note. As well as this, you can also find fruit flavors such as grapefruit, pineapple, peach, apricot, orange and cantaloupe in a standard bottle. Grapefruit flavors are most common in less-ripe variants, while strong pineapple notes come out when grapes have had the chance to mature and ripen for longer.

Other herbal and spicy aromas include honey, allspice, ginger, and cinnamon.

Good quality Gewurztraminer wines will also provide elegant rose petal, ginger and smoky aromas such as burnt incense.

Food Pairings

The aromatic splendor and sweet qualities of Gewurztraminer mean that when you’re planning a dinner party or the best way to enjoy a bottle of this wine, you should think well beyond its local region of Alsace and great creative with exotic cuisine.

Middle Eastern and Moroccan food including nuts and dried fruits bring out the best qualities of this wine, and dishes cooked in rosewater highlight these same flavors produced from the grape. When pairing with meat, fatty game meats are a great choice, as are the duck, chicken, shrimp, and crab.

When seasoning dishes to pair with Gewurztraminer, try cayenne pepper, ginger, cinnamon and allspice to complement these elements already present in the wine.

If you’re planning to enjoy this wine with a dessert course due to its sweet-scented nature, a delicately flavored soft cow’s milk cheese will be a beautiful combination, as will dried fruits.

sweet wines

Sweet wines and dessert biscotti.

Growing Gewurztraminer

This grape certainly isn’t the easiest of the noble grapes to cultivate and is known instead for being unreliable and fussy about where it can flourish. The first requirement to planting a Gewurztraminer vine is getting the right type of soil, if it is too chalky then there’s little to no hope of a good grape harvest.

Secondly, the right climate is essential to keeping the vine happy. The delicate grapes are very susceptible to disease and also frost: so dry, warm summers are a must. However, if the climate is too hot then the grapes do not develop the higher acidity levels needed to balance their natural sweetness.

When the grapes do have the right conditions to grow, they ripen erratically and quite late in the year, so harvesting them can be time-consuming and a real waiting game.

Notable Regions

France

Gewurztraminer is at its finest and purest form when grown in its home region of Alsace. In this region, it is the second most planted grape variety and one of the most characteristic wines of the region.

The styles of the wine that can be found from Alsace range from very dry Trimbach varieties to very sweet bottles. The sweet variants make the most of the grape’s high sugar content and noble-rot affected Sélection de Grains Nobles is among the best for making a high-quality dessert wine.

Germany

Germany has around 10 square kilometers of planted Gewurztraminer vines, however, the wine produced in this country is substantially different to the neighboring French varieties. German Gewurztraminer tends to be relatively dry, and winemakers often try to subdue the natural sweetness and flamboyance of the grape which is embraced in other countries.

Australia

Compared to France and Germany, Australia is not known for producing the best quality Gewurztraminer, however, it does draw attention for its unique names, such as Traminer Musqué and Gentil Rose Aromatique. That said, overall wine quality is improving from Australia and regions to look out for on the bottle are the Adelaide Hills, Eden Valley, Tasmania, Clare Valley, Yarra Valley and even the vineyards of the Australian Alps, a long way from the grape’s original home of the French Alps.